The 1960s were a great year for scientific feats, but few events cast a shadow over the moon landing. One of the most outstanding scientific achievements of all time; it’s crazy to think that this fantastic achievement happened within the lifetime of many of our parents and grandparents.
What’s even more surprising is the technology that took us there is primitive by today’s standards. The Apollo 11 mission was years ahead of its time and continues to astound scientists to this day. Learning about the simple tech and sheer ingenuity behind the scenes of the moon landing helps you appreciate it for the historical event it was.
On July 20th, 1969, before the invention of cellphones or the first home computer, the U.S. launched their first lunar landing mission: Apollo 11.
The 363ft tall Saturn V rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 9:32 am. It carried three astronauts; command module pilot Michael Collins, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., lunar module pilot, and the iconic commander, Neil A. Armstrong, who made himself a household name as the first human to step foot moon.
While the first moonwalk of humankind is impressive, some of the most significant accomplishments of this event took place behind the scenes. Getting all the tech and gear ready for “the space race” was no easy task.
Making a spacecraft is literally rocket science. When engineers and scientists designed the three spacecraft which took the astronauts to the moon, the field was in its relative infancy.
Early space travel didn’t involve sending vehicles to other planets. In the beginning, researchers and politicians alike just wanted to get people in space and test the limits of the modern technology of the time.
Many early experiments didn’t involve living things at all, such as the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, launched into earth’s orbits by the Soviet Union in 1957. While it was much different than modern satellites, like those used to perform satellite imaging, it still paved the way for further experiments.
Later experiments investigating the effects conditions would have on life involved launching animals, like dogs or monkeys, sometimes without any intentions of surviving the flight.
In the September of 1951, scientists recovered Yorick, a rhesus monkey, along with 11 mice following a space launch from New Mexico, marking the first time a monkey survived space.
Then finally, in 1961, the USSR launched its first cosmonaut: Yuri Gagarin. Even then, it was “just” to orbit the planet, but it was a momentous event that marked the genesis of manned space travel.
Taking men to the moon involved a lot more than “simply” calculating the perfect trajectory to launch a nearly indestructible capsule.
While the Apollo 8 mission carried out by NASA in December of 1968 managed to take a manned craft beyond low Earth orbit, no human had successfully stepped foot on another astronomical object.
They needed vehicles that could not only propel the men safely beyond the low Earth orbit and withstand the harsh conditions of space but also help get the men back home in one piece.
With full intentions of having the astronauts make their first steps on the moon, the spacecraft was not the only thing needed to withstand the challenging environment of space.
The astronauts needed effective spacesuits that would be their own life support once they left the command module. After several different alterations, the Apollo A7L suit comprised 21 layers of protection.
The pressured suit was an impressive piece of technology on its own. Integrated water-filled tubes helped protect the astronauts from overheating, and a specialized backpack offered additional life support elements, such as oxygen.
Even more impressive is that a large group of women sewed the suit entirely by hand.
The suits weren’t the only handmade protective measure. Other elements we can thank diligent industrial workers for include equipment like parachutes and the heatshield.
Another impressive handmade feat came from the “core rope memory” of the computers responsible for the mission’s success. Of course, computers in themselves weren’t so standard, and the “modern” computers of the era were the size of several fridges stacked together.
When weight is of the essence, scientists decided to try out a unique memory design known as core rope memory. While it was incredibly efficient for its time and helped save a lot of weight, it needed a human touch.
People needed to use a needle to thread the wire into the proper position to translate all the 0s and 1s of the program with perfect precision. Many of the people responsible for the task were textile workers.
The resulting tech behind the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) and Display Keyboard (DSKY) was years ahead of their time. The Apollo computer was the first significant device to use integrated circuits and computer chips.
The tech that took us to the moon had memory comparable to a modern digital watch.
How Is Modern Space Travel Different
With all this talk about Elon Musk setting off cars into space and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos blasting aboard New Shepard rocket ship, it’s easy to see that much has changed. The scientific community learned a lot in the last couple of decades, and one could argue that rocket science is no longer in its infancy.
There have been several more missions carried out from astronaut programs all over the world. Since the “Soviet-era” missions, space travel got an upgrade.
More flexible suits, spacious ships, and more extended missions are just a few modern space travel experiences. Nasa launched over 200 manned flights with only two failing. Since the initial mission in 1969, twelve men successfully followed the footsteps of Apollo 11 and walked on the moon.
Beyond manned missions, institutions worldwide managed to “make contact” with other planets, like Venus and Jupiter, using remote spacecraft. Modern space photography from NASA even lets us see galaxies without ever leaving the comfort of your couch.
While humans have yet to land on another moon or planet, NASA hopes that era of being earthbound will come to an end. NASA has explored the possibility of visiting Mars for a long time now. Hopefully, with enough support and research, we hope that this is a distinct possibility of the near future.
Was Apollo 11 That Big of a Deal?
The Apollo 11 mission is one of the most significant accomplishments of humankind. The people behind the success worked around the clock with creative solutions, cutting-edge technology, and a lot of research. Even though this event took place decades ago, it remains an exciting example of scientists pushing boundaries to redefine history.
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